Want to get loud?
Don't do it in Delray Beach — unless you're ready to pay big money for violating the city's new noise ordinance.
City officials recently approved raising noise violation fines to $1,000 per day for first-time offenders, $5,000 a day for second offenses and $15,000 a day for repeat offenders. Officials also made changes to how noise is measured.
"It seems a little excessive, but then again I don't live downtown and sleep next to a club," said Jonathan Frey, who recently enjoyed a drink at Paddy McGee's in downtown Delray Beach.
The law applies to house parties, restaurants and booming cars, or cars with stereo systems loud enough to shatter windows. The clatter needs to be heard 50 feet away from the source, or 100 feet from the vehicle, instead of the decibel reading the city previously used to cite violators, said Code Enforcement Director Al Berg.
Delray Beach's fines are among the highest in Palm Beach and Broward counties, where most noise violations range from $250 for first-time offenders to $500 for repeat ones.
"I'm sure it will get some people's attention," Berg said.
The move to tighten the law and increase fines came after Delray's old noise ordinance was found unconstitutional by the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court.
The owners of Paddy McGee's challenged a citation the restaurant received last year and the court ruled that the portion of the ordinance that prohibited "noise disturbances" was too vague and didn't give fair warning of when the law was being violated, said City Attorney Brian Shutt.
Shutt said the city modeled the new ordinance after Miami Beach's, which prohibits unreasonably loud, excessive or unnecessary noise and sounds that are plainly audible. Miami Beach's law was challenged in 2007 but a court upheld it because there were specific ways to enforce it.
In the past 30 years, many urban planners have advocated mixed-use development to make more pedestrian-friendly communities and avoid suburban sprawl. Delray Beach has embraced the model by creating a downtown that aimed to epitomize the "live, work, play" philosophy, but it has also had to deal with the issues that mixing residents and businesses create.
"People in Osceola Park, for example, have music that is coming from Atlantic Avenue and the noise is in their front yard," said Delary Vice Mayor Tom Carney. "It's not unreasonable to ask people who are emitting noise to have respect for their neighbors."
In 2011, the city issued more than 25 noise violations, a sharp increase from the previous year when it issued only one, and that was unrelated to downtown noise.
The city could not provide records of how many violations it has issued this year despite a public records request. Berg, however, said the culprits are the usual suspects: Il Bacio, Paddy McGee's, Johnny Browns and Boston's on the Beach — all restaurants that offer live entertainment.
Berg said police routinely respond to complaints, but also can write noise citations as they patrol Atlantic Avenue.
In the center of downtown, the owners of Worthing Place, an apartment rental building, filed a lawsuit against Il Baccio, an Italian restaurant and nightclub near Atlantic Avenue, to get it to stop playing excessively loud music.
Granite Worthing LLC claims it is having trouble renting some of its units because of the music coming from Il Baccio, according to court documents.
Granite Worthing also claims it has lost one tenant and has had to relocate three others to other units in the building because of Il Baccio's noise, which damaged the building's reputation, according to court documents.
Il Baccio owner Steve Pellegrino could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
"As with any urban space, it's a give and take," said Raphael Clemente, executive director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority. "The beauty of living in an urban area is you have many things in close proximity to one another."
Like Delray Beach, West Palm Beach has had to grapple with balancing the interests of condo residents downtown and those of businesses that depend on entertainment to attract patrons.
Clemente said the city has taken steps to alleviate noise problems downtown, such as requiring business owners to install noise buffering equipment or requiring sound systems to turn down the bass.
"One of the challenges we still have to address is our patrons. Whether it is their automobiles or their voices, yelling, blowing horns or stereos in their cars," he said. "That's probably the most difficult to address — especially if they don't live here."
In Fort Lauderdale, the vision of redeveloping the beach and downtown areas as urban centers of activity has resulted in noise complaints and disputes. There are basically two sets of noise rules: one is for the entertainment districts: those businesses in Himmarshee, Las Olas Riverfront, Beach Place and most of the block just north of Las Olas Boulevard on State Road A1A. The other rules are for the rest